Ask an Expert: 13 Ways to Green-up Your Front Garden
Check out these expert tips for designing a beautiful, verdant front space, whatever the type or size of your property
Professional advice from:
Jane Bingham of The Cheshire Garden
Kate Eyre of Kate Eyre Garden Design
Caroline Benedict Smith Garden Designer
Everyone can benefit from a beautiful front garden. Gorgeous plants will provide a warm welcome when you arrive home, passers-by can enjoy the sight and scent of pretty flowers and even your opposite neighbours will appreciate a nice view from their windows.
“I’m passionate about front gardens,” says Jane Bingham. “Shared green spaces are so important for our wellbeing, as well as for the environment.”
“Your front space is a good indication of what to expect beyond the front door,” adds Kate Eyre. “So make sure it makes the right impact. Think about everything, including the colour of your door and how it ties in with your overall planting scheme.”
Caroline Benedict Smith says the most important starting point is your choice of landscape materials. “They should help the garden to blend seamlessly with your property,” she says. “The front garden is the window to your home, so it should enhance it and create a sense of arrival.”
Her advice is to choose bricks, stones and gravel that match the materials used in your home. “Match the bricks on your front wall with those on your property’s facade, or choose a colour of gravel that picks out the hue of your window frames,” she advises. Here, the paving complements the stone property, while the pale bench highlights the door and windows.
“Start by planting evergreen plants with attractive shapes,” recommends Eyre. “This will form a framework on top of which you can layer bulbs, perennials and shrubs.”
In a way, you’ll benefit even more from your front garden in the winter, as you might not venture out to the back garden quite as often. “If you have lovely plants that flower in winter, put them in the front garden,” says Eyre. She suggests Sarcococca confusa, which has fragrant white flowers in winter, followed by berries, and Daphne odora, which has pretty scented flowers in early spring.
Benedict Smith also stresses the importance of an evergreen structure. “Topiarised privet and box hedging are fantastic for creating a structure that stays sharp all year,” she says. “Box needs to be clipped just once a year on Derby Day (the beginning of June) with a pair of topiary shears. It’s very therapeutic.”
When paving your front garden, use a porous material rather than something solid like concrete or asphalt. “A rise in non-porous paving is one of the main causes of flash floods,” explains Bingham. “Vegetation doesn’t soak up the excess water so it has nowhere to go.” Opt for permeable paving instead, such as gravel. “You can buy mesh mats that will keep the gravel in place, so it doesn’t fly off everywhere,” adds Bingham.
“Avoid concrete at all costs,” advises Eyre. “Not only is it bad for the environment, but it can also have a detrimental effect on the house itself.” Concrete stops water being absorbed into the ground and can cause soil foundations to dry up and shrink, leading to subsidence.
What if you can’t use permeable paving? “Regulations allow up to five square metres of non-porous surface, unless you have somewhere in your garden for the rain to drain into,” says Benedict Smith. “So a good solution is to install a rain garden.”
This is an area of soil that is lower than the concrete surface of your front garden. It helps if it has absorbent soil and should contain plants that can withstand occasional flooding. Benedict Smith recommends bog plants, such as Astilbe, Persicaria and Lythrum salicaria (the purple plant pictured), especially in areas with clay soil that doesn’t drain so well.
If you need space for a driveway, you can still incorporate some greenery. Take out some of the paving and plant either grass or hard-wearing ground cover plants in the spaces. Bingham recommends using robust, low-growing plants such as Lysimachia nummularia, Ajuga reptans, thyme, sedum and creeping phlox.
It’s also possible to lay a reinforced mesh system over a lawn, which will provide a grid for the grass to grow through and allow cars to drive over without causing damage. You’ll find these protective grids at a number of retailers.
Hedges provide shelter for wildlife as well as a screen for privacy. They can also help to filter out air pollutants, so they’re a handy thing to have in your front garden. The most common types of evergreen hedge are leylandii and laurel, which are both fast growing.
Bingham also recommends deciduous varieties such as hornbeam or beech, which will retain their winter leaves when clipped into hedging. “They’re tricked into thinking they’re still young trees, so they don’t shed their foliage,” she says.
“I’d also recommend Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ for its gorgeous red leaves,” she adds.
Don’t forget to factor in your wheelie bins when planning your front garden, and perhaps some bike storage. Wooden bin parks and bike sheds are an attractive way to hide these cumbersome objects, and present a great opportunity to grow a green roof on top.
Here, Eyre has attached a tray of sedum to the top of a wooden structure. “We usually make an attractive shed from cedar wood, and secure bikes with a big metal loop in the ground,” she explains.
Bingham also recommends planting sedum as well as wildflowers, both of which can be bought as a ready-made mat and laid just like lawn turf.
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Even tiny front gardens can go green, and one of the most interesting ways to do this is to think vertically with a living wall. There are companies that specialise in creating living wall systems that comprise planting troughs or pockets and an irrigation system.
According to Bingham, the best plants to use on a living wall are Heuchera, thyme, sedum, Carex and Ajuga reptans.
A simple option is to grow a beautiful climbing plant up your front wall or trellis. Plant it in a large pot next to the front door and let it work its way up and around to form a pretty frame. “There are so many options for climbing plants,” says Bingham. “A good choice is Clematis armandii as it’s easy to grow, or honeysuckle for its delicious scent.”
“Roses and clematis look gorgeous and romantic together,” says Benedict Smith. “But they require pruning and will need to be trained up a trellis. If you don’t want to do that, choose a climber with suckers, such as Hydrangea petiolaris instead.”
If you’re renting you might feel reluctant to invest in the garden, so why not focus on containers instead? Window boxes and planters can be filled with seasonal plants or low-maintenance evergreens. It’s a great way of ringing the changes, and they can be taken with you when you move.
Pots are high maintenance, though, and will need watering every day in the summer. Benedict Smith’s top tip for container plants is to add plenty of mulch to the soil, and to put a layer of decorative gravel on top to conserve water.
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Even trees can be grown in planters, says Bingham. “The size of the container will depend on the type of tree you choose,” she explains. “Topiary is always a winner, so try bay, yew, box or privet.”
She also recommends acer, cherry trees and crab apples, as well as dogwood, witch hazel and magnolias.
“Amelanchier lamarckii is a lovely small tree and would grow nicely in a container,” adds Benedict Smith. “Of course, nothing wants to stay in a pot forever, but you’ll get a good few years out of it. It’s smaller than a cherry tree, will grow in semi shade, and doesn’t really mind which type of soil it’s in. It has pretty white flowers in spring, glorious autumn colour and provides berries for the birds to eat.”
Opinion is divided on whether a front lawn is a wise choice. “Think carefully before you lay a front lawn, as it takes time to maintain,” says Eyre. “And a lawn that isn’t looked after won’t look attractive at the front of your house.”
“It depends on the type of home you live in,” adds Bingham. “If it’s easy to bring the mower round the front, I’d go for it.” However, in a flat or a terraced house that might be easier said than done. As an alternative, Bingham recommends wildflower turf. “It needs cutting just once a year and looks amazing,” she says.
“I’d be creative,” suggests Benedict Smith. “Lay a curved area of lawn that a path can wrap around to lead you to the door. Grass looks fantastic against a path made of grey materials such as slate.
“It’s only a once-a-week job to mow the lawn, and it will provide a lovely area of winter interest.”
How have you added greenery to your front garden? Share your ideas and photos in the Comments below.